Social Question

Sneki95's avatar

Is it possible to be racist/sexist/similar without knowing it or being aware of it?

Asked by Sneki95 (7012points) December 10th, 2016

Like, on accident, saying something offensive without being aware it was offensive.

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13 Answers

Sneki95's avatar

Nevermind, flagged.

RedDeerGuy1's avatar

Yes I have a family member who crosses the line all the time, and doesn’t know it.

elbanditoroso's avatar


But this actually poses a deeper question. Are you culpable / responsible for a racist /sexist /ageist statement or action if you didn’t know it was wrong in the first place?

In criminal cases, the accused has to know the action was wrong in order to be found guilty. Someone with the inability to know right from wrong gets punished, perhaps but at a different level.

Let me give an example. A number of years ago (pre-internet) I was getting gas at a small gas station way in southern Georgia. I struck up a conversation with the guy at the nearby pump. He looked like local farmer (local plates, farm stuff in the back of his truck) – my guess is that he might never have been out of the county, much less the state. Sort of your generic southern redneck.

Anyway, when he was done pumping he made some sort of comment about “I’m going to go in and pay and see if I can jew her down into letting me get a free soda” (or something similar).

Now – to “jew someone down” is nasty and offensive to me as Jew – it’s a derogatory term meaning that your’re sharp with money or always wants a cheaper price or wants to bargain. It’s not a nice thing to say.

But my estimation – and I was standing there – is that this good ol’ boy had no idea what he was saying or that I (and others) might be offended. I think he was just plain ignorant – that’s what they said in that small town in the middle of the cotton belt.

If I had called him on it, I’ll bet he would have apologized.

But – was he knowingly anti-semitic or anti-jewish? I doubt it.

olivier5's avatar

Most prejudices are so internalized that people harboring them don’t actually think of them. It’s like breathing. Only when others point it out do we notice our prejudices. And even then, there’s usually a denial period.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@elbanditoros I don’t know. I never thought saying “Jew someone down,” was a bad thing, though I know it is now.

I also never knew “Squaw,” was an insult until the other day. I grew up thinking it just meant a mature, female Native American.

If they don’t know it’s an insult, and they don’t mean to be insulting, I think we can give them a pass.

Other than that, expressing outright contempt for another race….many people don’t think it’s wrong. They just think it’s the truth.
I have an acquaintance who is very, very racist. She once said, in disgust, “I remember when basketball was only played by white boys. Now you have all these black boys all over the court.’
I said, “Well, generally speaking, black guys are usually better players than white.”
She didn’t like that!

canidmajor's avatar

Am I the only one curious about “Nevermind, flagged”? This seems like a legit Q.

LostInParadise's avatar

Most of us are prejudiced to one degree or another in that we sometimes unconsciously associate certain stereotypes with people we meet of other races and ethnicities.

Jeruba's avatar

Sure. Especially if you grew up with it, and people around you expressed attitudes that you just thought were “normal.” My father, for instance, an enlightened and well-educated Christian man, often made antisemitic remarks at the family dinnertable. I didn’t even know who he was talking about until I was in junior high and figured out that some of those slang terms and mispronounced epithets referred to my friends and schoolmates. It was just something that I heard as adult jokes that I didn’t get.

I don’t think he even knew a single Jewish person in the small towns of eastern Canada where he grew up, much less a black person. Somehow I think it seemed okay to laugh at people who were completely unknown and distant. I’m sure there was no ill or harmful intent.

In church it was routinely explained to us that Bible references to “the people of Israel” meant us—God’s chosen. It never even occurred to us that it meant actual Jews, much less that it was their scripture. We thought it was about us.

When I began to become more aware, gaining consciousness of the racial and religious stereotypes that blighted our society in those years before the Civil Rights Acts, I was shocked to realize the amount of casual, thoughtless, and almost meaningless bigotry that I had taken for granted in my community and family.

flutherother's avatar

If it’s perceived as racism or sexism perhaps it is but what is most important is the intent. If there is no intention to be hurtful there is no need to take offence.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Saying something that is offensive to someone, especially if they identify with the group that received the alleged negative comment is more to the hearer, than the person who said it. Because the person who said it unless they know it is an accepted slur, cut, insult etc. it was made without malice or ill intent; the same can be said for rudeness

olivier5's avatar

In a forum i was on previously, there were a bunch of blockes (English and Australian) who were convinced that French people were inherently bad or inferior people: dirty, corrupt, mean etc… No argument could convince them otherwise. Needless to say, I found it rather strange at first, especially from the Brits who are our neighbors and allies and all that. I thought they were pulling my leg. But no, it was just a form of casual racism like any other.

One day i joked that learning English was easy because half the words were French. (To be precise, since I researched this issue back then, 41% of the 10,000 most common English words are of French origin.)

A big fat runcus started. Those blockes fought tooth and nail against the evidence I provided.

Based on this experience i am now wondering if some forms of casual racism are not a device to HIDE a common origin, a cultural borrowing, an ancient link or debt from one people to another.

Take antisemitism. @Jeruba rightly pointed out that Christians appropriated the entirity of the Jewish scriptures and made it their own. Christian antisemitism could be a way to hide this “borrowing” under the carpet.

Another example is the strength of anti-black racism in the US (which seems to me stronger than elsewhere): couldn’t that be a way to hide the debt (at the least moral) that the nation owes to slaves from Africa, who helped build America?

There’s also the European attitude to Arabs. It’s undeniable that European civilization owes much to the Arabs.

Sneki95's avatar

Thank you all for your answers, it helped me get a clearer view.

SecondHandStoke's avatar

We live in a time where one could find anything sexist or racist.

If I spent all my time obsessing about how what I say could be blown out of proportion by some special snowflake I’d never get anything done.

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